It's a state-sponsored institution with a misogynist history and a lot of gendered ritual. It's a partnership between two people who care about each other. It can be a symbol of love, a sign of miserable commitment, or a partnership of convenience. It's a socially-sanctioned relationship between a monogamous heterosexual, cisgendered couple which is expected to produce children. It's a reason for lower car insurance rates. It's internationally recognized, but not universally defined. It's an institution queer people have historically been denied. It happens in Boston between lesbians. It's a gateway to health insurance in America.
I have extremely mixed emotions on marriage, but I definitely think it can mean different things at different times. It can take many forms. There is considerable beauty and power in partnerships and relationships, in the emotional and sexual bonds we have with others. Do I personally think all commitments should be for life? Probably not. Would I deny anyone else the right to commit to someone for life? Hell no. I don't really care what the fuck we call it, as long as everyone has equal access to it. I don't think the government should define who gets to take part in social rituals and social contracts. But if that's the only way everyone can have equal access, then government control may be the only way. I don't think my tax rates should be linked to my relationship status, though.
Your favorite LGBT book?
I got into LGBTQ non-fiction heavily a few years ago. I'd have to stay "Stonewall" by Martin M. Duberman (which is about the fascinating history of queer bars in New York, the mob, the three pieces of clothing law, the Stonewall riots, and much more) or "And the Band Played On" by Randy Shilts. There are others, and I own a lot of fiction, too. But those two books changed my life.
Your favorite LGBT quote?
Your first experience with an LGBT organization or event?
My first year of college someone at school told me about the local PFLAG group that met once a month on Saturday mornings at 10am. I started going, taking my then-girlfriend with me whenever she was in town. The woman who ran the group, Sherry, became like a surrogate mother to many of us. It was a varied group and an ever-changing cast, some queer, some families of queer kids or adults. We had children as young as four up to transwomen in their seventies. I don't remember my first meeting. But I do remember that PFLAG opened a lot of doors for me. It was the first time I belonged to a group where I felt welcome, safe, and supported. It was very, very powerful for me. It was the gateway to a lot of what I became involved with. They became the supportive family I needed to help me come at school and in town, when my biological family wasn't supportive.
Butch or femme?
Neither. This is a complex question for me, one I'm still learning to navigate. I respect those who find power in these terms, who identify with them. That's great, and I don't want my rejection of these terms to be taken as why everyone shouldn't use them -- I don't feel like that, at all. But I just don't identify with them. It's like sticking a round peg in a square hole for me. I struggle with how we all love to identify and label each other, and how often "femme" gets attached to me in ways I'm not comfortable with. It's just simply not how I describe my body, my identity, or my experience. As for my attractions -- I find I'm most attracted to certain personality traits, to individual quirks, and not to someone's gender expression or looks. Those are just bonus :)
Political LGBT issue that is closest to you or affects you the most?
I have a hard time narrowing out "issues" because social problems are deeply interconnected. I find connections easily. If I had to pick one political issue that's most important to me, it would probably be employment discrimination. It's incredibly pervasive. I think everyone needs food and shelter and safety from violence first, so those basic needs will always be my priority. When those needs are met, then I'm happy to put money and energy toward other issues. But without a job, those very basic needs cannot be met.
At the root of most queer "issues" is the widespread belief that homosexuality and transgenderism is wrong and queer people are less deserving, less important, than heterosexual cis-people. Why would we need to protect against bullying and against discrimination if everyone believed that queer people were truly equal to heterosexual, cis-people? We wouldn't. So anything and everything I do is not just about creating laws or political equality, but full social equality. The civil rights movement didn't end racism. The gay rights movement isn't going to end homophobia and transphobia. It's a step in the right direction, but we need to change widely held beliefs and ideas, not just the laws.
Even within queer culture, within subgroups and power structures, I often see the same play out -- men who don't see women as capable and equal, gays and lesbians who don't see trans people as equal, etc. I want a nation, a culture, and a society that values difference and uniqueness instead of discriminating against those that don't assimilate, those who aren't the majority. I don't think that's too much to ask for.
An LGBT image that makes you smile and an LGBT image that makes you cry or makes you angry?
These are images of imprisoned gay men at Buchenwald, one of the Nazi concentration camps, who are marked by the pink triangle to symbolize their group status. This image breaks my heart.
The first two images are from the Stonewall Riots in 1969. The second two are from the first gay liberation march, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. There is nothing like the power of individuals taking to the streets, to public spaces where they can be condemned, beaten, murdered, and instead, they are proclaiming the power of their love. These photos are also testimony that the Gay Lib movement was made up of a diverse group. It wasn't men or women. It wasn't black or white. It wasn't old or young. It wasn't gay or trans. It was everyone.
I'm grateful that there are photos of history to remind us what a difference three and a half decades makes.